Most large enterprises have made long term investments in monolith customer data and engagement infrastructure. These systems, while robust, are not always well-positioned to continuously innovate at the same rate as new, best in class emerging mobile-first martech. Legacy systems often keep pace with demand for new features by acquiring tech and integrating it into their existing tools (which were not originally built for the mobile-first age). The result can be clunky, hard to learn, or lack important functionality — and the faltering capabilities translate to difficulty meeting consumer expectations. In short, tech hurdles and limitations hold brands back from adaptation and growth, and that impacts the bottom line.
Nonetheless, the investment in legacy tech is often so great and the organization’s dependence on the software so complete, it is difficult to imagine (let alone follow) the roadmap to fully modernize the stack. In order to take advantage of new capabilities that are not available in older tech, many organizations ask for help determining which new tools to integrate into their legacy stack and how to do it. In this blog, we will help you get ready for your own integration project by discussing how we support organizations to integrate new technologies into their legacy growth stack, outlined in these 6 steps:
- Define a UX vision
- Write use cases
- Audit gaps
- Investigate new tech
- Write and run a request for proposal (RFP)
- Gain buy-in throughout the organization
There are many strategies and methodologies - they vary by industry and organization type. We will also explain how we think about selecting technologies, prioritizing investment, and right sizing “proof of concept” projects based on business-specific considerations.
When the right tech is implemented effectively, new technologies are essential to maintaining your organization’s market position and enabling future growth.
1. Every modernization requires vision
Most of our clients have no lack of vision and ambition. Recently, WillowTree supported the digital transformation efforts of a large financial services client. They knew they wanted their customers’ experience to be best-in-class: mobile and web segmentation and personalization and cross-platform behavior-triggered in-app, push, and email messages. They wanted their marketing teams to be armed with speedy campaign results: tools that would enable them to make data-informed decisions and drive growth with agility. Sadly, their monolith systems alone didn’t enable them to get there: The tools did not enable real time data transfer between app and web products, databases, messaging systems, and analytics tools. They needed new tech.
No matter the challenge, WillowTree works with our clients to define a vision grounded in business strategy.
2. Define the vision - in use cases
When your organization has achieved its vision, what does that look like? We recommend defining “use cases” from the business or the customer perspective. Here are some examples of use cases that organizations we have worked with have decided to pursue:
- Connect anonymous actions with known customer identities to have a single view of customer interactions on a logged in and non-logged in customer.
- Expedite analytics cycle and reduce reporting lift to give analysts more time to produce value-driving insights.
- Target Google display and Facebook based on customer behavior in the app and on the web, increasing new customer conversion rates in acquisition advertising.
- Make customer data accessible and connected by syncing customer service platforms, email and digital marketing, push notifications, and more.
- Get full attribution and analytics for mobile referral.
- Meet and exceed customer data privacy laws (GDPR, CCPA, etc.), and ensure their technology feature roadmap will stay ahead of regulations.
Additionally, use cases should be prioritized based on their simulated impact to revenue and their association with the business’ long-term strategy (business value).
3. Get audited
Once we have an understanding of the overarching vision and the prioritized use cases, WillowTree conducts a tech stack audit. The goal of this effort is to understand the existing tech stack: what is working, what could be working if fully implemented, and what gaps and risks exist. This identifies gaps in critical technology capabilities for priority use cases, like data accessibility and omnichannel marketing orchestration.
4. Investigate and plan the new technologies (get ready, this is the long section)
Once you know the possible operational functionality of the technology you have and the capabilities you will need to achieve your user experience vision, you can zoom into high value opportunities. From this compelling list, including gaps in execution, analytics, UX, and data infrastructure, you develop a strategic plan for business transformation and identify a first move to progress toward your vision. This depends on the priority use cases as well as businessfmiz considerations, including:
- Startup vs. enterprise
- Technological maturity
- Change management capacity
- High growth vs. retention
- Competitive positioning
- Types of digital platforms (mobile vs. web)
While the actual tech varies a bit, we generally recommend starting with one of the following approaches:
- Highest impact: Start with a lower cost piece of tech that will integrate and provide return quickly, showing the biggest wins first to gain buy-in from decision makers and internal stakeholders
- Lay the groundwork: The Customer Data Platform (CDP) may be a good starting point, as having that foundation lowers the cost and difficulty of integrating additional modern tools later. If the plan is to fully rebuild and replace in the short-to-medium term, and good data and faster actionability is a priority, we often discuss improving data infrastructure as a starting point.
For this financial services project, the client opted to use new tech to add new, valuable functionality to the legacy stack. They wanted to demonstrate tech ROI quickly and prepare the organization for the larger CDP effort. They also wanted the opportunity to learn from the experience of executing a cross-functional integration project and bring that institutional knowledge to the larger CDP project.
A deep linking and attribution tool was selected because it would enable net-new functionality that supported their business goals of driving app usage and better optimizing their digital marketing efforts. This use case would show a relatively short time to value and support the acquisition marketing team, which was already one of the more advanced groups in the organization.
The tool that was selected for this client was Branch, recently named Adobe 2020 Exchange Enterprise Partner of the Year. For a Branch implementation project, there are many connection endpoints to consider. For our client, these included:
- Data warehousing
- Analytics software
- Acquisition digital marketing channels
- A legacy email service provider
- Several apps and websites
Each category had some combination of legacy tooling, a newer tool that had been partially integrated into the stack but not yet fully adopted, and a group of options being considered for the future-state tech stack.
- In data warehousing, our client had an internally hosted data lake as well as newer cloud infrastructure. The client opted to skip integrating the Branch with the data lake but move forward on the cloud, so in the tool selection process, they confirmed the Branch data export API would work with the selected cloud provider’s platform.
- For the ESP, on the other hand, they had a legacy tool that could not support all their needs and ambitions to modernize in the medium term (1-2 years). Branch had a beta integration with this ESP and fully vetted integrations with several of the big-name modern ESPs that would be considered as part of the future state growth stack. While the process for integrating with the legacy ESP was more challenging, it was essential to deliver value from the new tool.
5. Request proposals and vet your options
Once the gaps are identified and the high value business use cases clearly outlined, the process for selecting a piece of tech that supports the use cases can begin. Depending on the size of the company and project, this can be a formal request for proposal (RFP) process or a process of discovery, research, and demos.
When selecting tech, the ecosystem is actually the most important consideration - almost all martech tools connect to other systems, especially databases, marketing execution tools, apps, and websites. It is the ecosystem and all its interconnected pieces, not a single tool, that enables marketers and analysts to drive growth.
Generally, martech is moving away from monolithic systems that “do it all” to modular stacks with interchangeable pieces, each fantastic at doing one thing. This is a boon to marketers for some key reasons:
- Faster tech adoption and change
- Quicker time to value
- Easier to replace one piece
- More cost effective
- Easier to test new tech without committing
- The martech companies are motivated to continually improve their product to stay competitive.
In order to ensure that the new tool will work with the existing and future ecosystem, it is important to pay careful attention to the tool’s pre-built integrations and APIs. Here are some examples that have helped our customers:
- Behavioral cohorts in Amplitude (analytics) can be sent directly to Iterable (ESP) and used to target email, push, and in-app messages
- Segment (customer data platform) has out-of-the-box integrations to send analytics events to Mixpanel (analytics) and store them in Redshift (database).
- mParticle (CDP) and Braze (ESP) can ingest customer ids from legacy software. If an organization wanted a new source of data, they could still perform analysis in a legacy tool like Adobe.
Connections like these are key to integrating the new tech into the legacy stack as well as fitting it into the future-state modern stack as it is built out.
Pre-built integrations and APIs are not the only way to integrate, but they are usually the cheapest and quickest. Custom integrations and APIs can usually be built by the martech company, internal development teams, or a third-party consulting firm like WillowTree. Because this is likely where challenges (leading to delays and extra cost) can arise, we recommend the following considerations be included in the RFP:
- What connection points that are needed for integrating with legacy tools?
- What connection points that are needed for integrating with tools that are being considered as part of the future state modern growth stack?
- Of these connections, what out-of-the-box integrations are available?
- If the integration is available, is the integration well vetted or is it in beta? (If an integration is new, we know to build in time and resources for additional testing.)
- What is the process for new integrations or APIs to be built? (The martech company may be able to pay all or part if the integration would be valuable to other prospective clients - ask your sales rep!)
Core of our tool selection & RFP consulting process is WillowTree’s motto:
“Trust ideas from people who can build them.”
Growth team members work with developers to vet tools, integrations, and documentation, so that our clients are not taking what the sales team says for granted. We recommend that organizations similarly build a team to support tool selection that includes the end-users of the tool and developers who would support the integration.
WillowTree has what we call our “proof of concept” project. New tools that are being recommended to a client are integrated into an internal test project that includes an app, website, and backend. This way, WillowTree developers can gain experience in integrating a new tool and work through some of the tool’s challenges before bringing it into an enterprise legacy stack. Depending on your company size, it may not be feasible to conduct such a thorough process, but at the minimum, we recommend fully understanding what it will take to make the needed connections between the new tool and both legacy and possible new software.
In summary, the integration endpoints should be carefully examined in the tool selection process. Still, challenges are expected, so the ongoing partnership of the martech provider and agility and inventiveness of the integration team are both essential to ensuring a successful integration.
6. Buy in and ownership
As previously mentioned, executive-level buy-in and long-term strategic vision are important regardless of the size and type of new tool. In our Branch project, we started each meeting with an overview of the enterprise’s strategic vision and where this tool fit in. Revisiting the big picture with the full team, from the executives defining the vision to developers integrating an SDK, grounds the team. This tool is a part of essential modernization, without which our client would be left with little hope of survival - let alone growth. It’s helpful to remember this when working through the many challenges that go with integrating new tech.
One challenge that is especially daunting for large enterprise clients is that integrating new tech is a project that spans siloed teams. For this Branch project, WillowTree provided subject matter expertise, project management, and development, but that did not replace the need for client ownership. Integrating Branch requires coordination across product, lifecycle marketing, acquisition marketing, analytics and IT teams. Early in the project, it is essential to engage all the right stakeholders and establish buy-in on the ground-level.
The selection of the right representatives for the team implementing and owning a new tool cannot be undervalued. Ideally, a single individual can serve to be the overall lead, helping coordinate cross-department collaboration. It is not an easy job, especially when teams are stretched thin and balancing competing priorities.
Often though, there is no clear lead (and especially not someone with the capacity to take on a large new project and learn a new tool while moving forward an integration project). In this case, a group of stakeholders can rally around an idea, but the executive leadership may need to be more active, either arranging for consulting support or helping to guide the team and protect the integration project from competing obligations. For the Branch integration, representatives from the product, lifecycle, and acquisition teams were tapped to execute pieces of work and prepare to fully own the tool upon the completion of WillowTree’s engagement.
Integrating new tech into your legacy stack is no small feat, but a successful project will pave the way for your organization to make the long term strategic changes needed to modernize. Teams build skills, siloes are broken, and you will be one step closer to achieving your martech vision.
- Define a clear vision of the tech state you want to create, starting with a user experience vision and clear use cases.
- Understand the existing tech stack: what is working, what could be working if fully implemented, and what gaps and risks exist.
- Choose an opportunity and identify tech options that fulfil the gap.
- When selecting new tech, carefully vett the the endpoints where it will be integrated to legacy and future state tools.
- Establish a single owner and a cross-functional support team, and protect their time from competing priorities.
Questions, or need help selecting or integrating a new piece of technology into your growth stack? Reach out to our team today.